Happy Holiday "Stress Time"

By Chad Ernest, MS, LPC

It is that time of year again.  The holidays can be an extra stressful time for everyone.  Whether you are having visitors, family, friends or even spending them alone, each situation brings its own brand of stress.  There are ways to prepare one’s self and family for the holidays so that everyone can deal with the stress in the most effective way.  Here is a holiday prep guide:

Finances- Look, money is tight around the holiday time due to all the things that you may be preparing for like, meals, gifts for yourself, friends or family, not to mention all the regular bills that you have to pay.  Make a list of what you have to buy.  Do a budget to see if you can afford to pay for all of that without breaking your bank.  Look at your list to see if you can find alternative cost savings.  For example, if you are having family/friends over for a holiday dinner, instead of doing the whole meal yourself, perhaps turning it into a potluck style would be more helpful to your pocket book.  Don’t purchase brand new, go with used.  Be creative, make gifts.

Children- The stress of providing for children and pressure put on families by the consumer economy, make the holidays extra challenging.  Again, be creative.  Perhaps buying them one thing that was on their list and then making it into a big game to get it.  Children may want all the best and newest toys and electronics, but is that what the holiday season is all about?    What about the opportunity to spend time together as a family?  Perhaps volunteering as a family as a way to give to others can become a family tradition and teach children empathy and compassion.

Depression is a huge reaction to the holidays due to feelings of loneliness and loss.  Prepare to counteract that by reaching out and talking to friends and family to reconnect.  If you don’t want to do that or feel you have no one to reach out to, consider volunteering to spend the holidays helping others.  Also if you are alone for the holidays, don’t be afraid to celebrate in your own unique style and traditions.  It does not have to devoid of celebration or recognition of the holiday just because you are by yourself.  Celebrate and have fun.  Give yourself permission to enjoy it.

Anxiety of being with family/friends, perhaps hanging out with people who knew you, but no longer know you, can be difficult.  Patterns and old ways of talking to each other emerge.  You can expect certain behaviors from them or certain behaviors from you.  Be open.  Accept the things you can’t control, like how grumpy grandpa is, or maybe he has changed and is sweet as pie, but you expect him to be grumpy and try and push his buttons.  Remember that family and friends are there to enjoy each other’s company, not torture and ridicule each other (unless that is okay with all of you). 

The holiday stress makes some people want to cope with negative coping skills like drinking, drugs, total avoidance, arguments, or even getting physical.  Recognize what it is you do to cope with what stresses you out about the holidays whether that is being alone, all the things you have to prepare for, money that you have to spend or family and friends.  Acknowledge both the positive things and the negative things that you do.  Try to replace those negative ways to deal with stress around the holidays with the more positive coping skills like going for a walk (if possible), taking a 10 minute meditation/relaxation break, playing games, changing the subject to something less infuriating, accepting that you and someone are different and will likely not see eye to eye, agree to disagree, take a deep breath, do what you enjoy, take time for yourself to recharge.  Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone if you are struggling.  The number one coping skill is to share how you are feeling with others.  It is the holidays, share with each other.